Monday, 26 December 2011

My top 100 singles of 2011!

And now onto my favourite 100 songs of the year;

100. Rihanna - Where Have You Been
99. Wretch 32 feat Ed Sheeran - Hush Little Baby
98. Jennifer Lopez - Papi
97. Maja Keuc - No One
96. Kelly Clarkson - (What Doesn't Kill You) Stronger
95. Little Mix - Cannonball
94. Keri Hilson feat Nelly - Lose Control
93. Ed Sheeran - One Night
92. Yohanna - Nótt
91. Ed Sheeran - Sofa
90. Karizma - When Life is Grey
89. Reece Mastin - Good Night
88. Coldplay - Paradise
87. Noah And The Whale - Waiting For My Chance To Come
86. Katie Cole - Breakout
85. Same Difference feat Alcazar - Karma Karma
84. The Saturdays - All Fired Up
83. Tove Styrke - Call My Name
82. A Friend In London - New Tomorrow
81. Adaline - Whiter/Straighter
80. Edith Backlund - What I've Become
79. Kate Ryan feat Narco - Broken
78. Leona Lewis / Avicii - Collide
77. Lady Gaga - Judas
76. Jennifer Lopez feat Lil' Wayne - I'm Into You
75. Drake feat Rihanna - Take Care
74. Young London - Let Me Go
73. LMFAO feat Lauren Bennett & Goonrock - Party Rock Anthem
72. The Saturdays - White Lies
71. Sara Bareilles - Love Is Christmas
70. Misty Miller - Remember
69. Agnes - Don't Go Breaking My Heart
68. Christina Perri - Jar Of Hearts
67. Rachel Platten - 1000 Ships
66. Rizzle Kicks - Down With the Trumpets
65. Swingfly - Me And My Drum
64. Take That - Love Love
63. Lena - Taken By A Stranger
62. Katy Perry - Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
61. Spiritchaser - These Tears
60. Brittany McDonald - Strawberry Shake
59. Amaury Vassili - Sognu
58. Taio Cruz feat Kylie Minogue - Higher
57. Anna Abreu - Hysteria
56. Emeli Sandé - Heaven
55. Gotye feat Kimbra - Somebody That I Used to Know
54. Hilltop Hoods feat Sia - I Love It
53. Ria - Over You
52. Lady Gaga - Scheiße
51. Yasmin - On My Own
50. The Pierces - Glorious
49. Florence & The Machine - Breaking Down
48. Beyoncé - Best Thing I Never Had
47. Agnes Obel - Riverside
46. Wynter Gordon - Dirty Talk
45. The Pierces - You'll Be Mine
44. Freak Asylum - You Better Leave
43. Jessie J feat B.o.B - Price Tag
42. Lykke Li - Sadness Is A Blessing
41. Sak Noel - Loca People
40. Colbie Caillat - Dream Life, Life
39. Ludovico Einaudi - I Giorni
38. Noah And The Whale - L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.
37. Diddy-Dirty Money feat Skylar Grey - Coming Home
36. One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful
35. Andrea Corr - Tinsletown In The Rain
34. Christina Perri - A Thousand Years
33. Alexandra Stan - Mr Saxobeat
32. Jenny Silver - Something In Your Eyes
31. Britney Spears - Till The World Ends
30. Florence & The Machine - Shake It Out
29. Military Wives with Gareth Malone - Wherever You Are
28. Lana Del Rey - Video Games
27. Frida Gold - Wovon Sollen Wir Träumen
26. Sunday Girl - Love U More
25. Charlene Soraia - Wherever You Will Go
24. Kelly Clarkson - Mr. Know It All
23. Will Young - Jealousy
22. Britney Spears - Hold It Against Me
21. Chart Music - All My Life
20. Nero - Me & You
19. Lady Gaga - The Edge Of Glory
18. Adele - Rolling In The Deep
17. Katie Cole - Sunrise
16. David Guetta & Sia - Titanium
15. Lise Karlsnes - Red Hot
14. Sanna Nielsen - I'm In Love
13. Adele - Someone Like You
12. Sara Varga - Spring För Livet
11. Ed Sheeran - Lego House
10. Eric Saade - Popular
9. Sheelah - The Last Time
8. Ed Sheeran - You Need Me, I Don't Need You
7. Nadine Beiler - The Secret Is Love
6. Blue - I Can
5. Eric Amarillo - Om Sanningen Ska Fram
4. Rihanna feat Calvin Harris - We Found Love
3. Jennifer Lopez feat Pitbull - On The Floor
2. Ed Sheeran - The A Team
1. Maroon 5 feat Christina Aguilera - Moves Like Jagger

So, a victory for Moves Like Jagger, a song by a soft rock/pop band that peaked in 2004 and an old favourite female artist of mine whose star faded some years ago collaborating on a song that has absolutely no relevance to the music industry of 2011 yet has quickly managed to sell a million copies in the UK. The song came about when Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and his band teamed up with Christina after the pair appeared together as judges on US reality show The Voice. They performed a new recording on the show one week called Moves Like Jagger and it went into the US top ten. Once airplay kicked in and a video had been made it became a little bit bigger than that and spread worldwide quickly. I'd heard it on the week it initially went top ten in the US and liked it but wasn't exactly wowed by it. However, once it started to get promotion in the UK and I started hearing it more it unexpectedly quickly won me over. Perhaps the fact that it doesn't sound like anything else around at the moment but manages to stand out so much is its main charm?

An infectious whistling introduction leading into Adam Levine's distinctive vocals, this is far more of a Maroon 5 song than a Christina one, she doesn't appear until towards the end where she gives a world class cameo and some amazing ad-libs. Essentially everything about this song sounds like 2004 - it might as well have been lifted off Songs About Jane, it's the last time that both acts were simultaneously relevant and production wise it's at least seven years out of date. So why on earth is it so good? Kids are singing it everywhere and it's one of the defining songs of the year. Kids. In 2011. Singing Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera songs. How did this happen? And why is it my favourite song of the year when I couldn't care less about Maroon 5 and have always been completely indifferent to them? What the hell is everybody's obsession with Mick Jagger recently? Too many questions which I have no answer to. And let's not discuss the seven weeks at #2 it had in the UK behind a different flash in the pan #1 every week, it's still a sore point. But Wham! had better watch their backs - Moves Like Jagger is coming for your crown of the most essential non UK #1 of all time! So Maroon 5, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez end up in my top three of 2011. Perhaps this time next year, Dannii Minogue's 700k selling comeback single will be battling Ashanti feat Ricky Martin's new million selling slow jam. Would you bet against it? As a final point, well done to Suffolk singer Ed Sheeran who gets two singles in the top ten, another just outside and my third favourite album of the year, I think it's fair to say that he's been my favourite artist of 2011!

My top 40 albums of 2011!

So it's the end of the year and time for the roundup of my favourite music from the past 12 months. A decent, if not incredible year for music, and after much thought here are my 40 favourite albums of 2011, the top ten including blurb!

40. Slow Moving Millie - Renditions
39. Sara Varga - Spring För Livet
38. Nero - Welcome Reality
37. Lenka - Two
36. Agnes Obel - Philharmonics
35. Ke$ha - Cannibal
34. Birdy - Birdy
33. Lena - Good News
32. Nicole Scherzinger - Killer Love
31. Beyonce - 4
30. Misty Miller - Misty Miller
29. Natasha Bedingfield - Strip Me
28. Same Difference - The Rest Is History
27. Wonderland - Wonderland
26. Cascada - Original Me
25. The Sound Of Arrows - Voyage
24. Colbie Caillat - All Of You
23. David Guetta - Nothing But The Beat
22. Jessie J - Who You Are
21. Veronica Maggio - Satan I Gatan
20. Kelly Clarkson - Stronger
19. Nicola Roberts - Cinderella's Eyes
18. Andrea Corr - Lifelines
17. Caro Emerald - Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor
16. September - Love CPR
15. The Saturdays - On Your Radar
14. Will Young - Echoes
13. Take That - Progressed
12. Rihanna - Talk That Talk
11. Rihanna - Loud


10. Ed Sheeran - Loose Change

1. Let It Out 9/10
2. Homeless 9/10
3. Little Bird 9/10
4. Sofa 9.5/10
5. One Night 9.5/10
6. Firefly 8/10
7. The City (Live at Sticky Studios) 9/10
8. Firefly (Bravado Dubstep Remix) 7/10

Initial pressings of this EP included The A Team instead of Let It Out but the version that I bought has the latter so that's the one that I'll focus on. Ed's most accomplished EP yet, I was unsure as to whether include it here but I always included it in my weekly chart so I'm going to do so here. Loose Change may only have six main tracks, and then a live song and a remix, but as a package it was definitely a firm favourite of mine. With great production, the likes of Sofa, One Night and Homeless arguably all should have made the cut for +, they wouldn't have even needed any production tweaking! Little Bird did make the tracklisting of +, albeit only the deluxe version. Ed's other EP's are great and I'd also recommend No 5 Collaborations Project, but if you're looking for something that sounds most like + then this is for you.

9. Jennifer Lopez - Love?

1. On The Floor (feat Pitbull) 10/10
2. Good Hit 7/10
3. I'm Into You (feat Lil' Wayne) 9.5/10
4. (What Is) Love? 9/10
5. Run The World 8/10
6. Papi 9.5/10
7. Until It Beats No More 9/10
8. One Love 8/10
9. Invading My Mind 8.5/10
10. Villain 8/10
11. Starting Over 9/10
12. Hypnotico 8.5/10
13. Everybody's Girl 8.5/10
14. Charge Me Up 9/10
15. Take Care 8/10

Jennifer Lopez's long delayed Love? finally surfaced this year, although only half of the tracks originally expected to make the cut actually did, the other half was filled with RedOne produced 'club bangers'. Lucky then that the majority of those defined amazing, particularly lead single On The Floor but more on that later! A great album, well produced and a mix of styles but remaining cohesive, Love? was everything I wanted - three great singles, two representing 'party J.Lo' and the other representing 'urban pop J.Lo' which is the style which spawned her most UK hits over the years. Good Hit is probably the only song that I skip, not that it's bad per se but not as strong as the rest of the album, it's track 2 positioning slightly worried me that it was being lined up as a single at some point! American Idol and On The Floor put Jenny from the block back on the map and lets hope that the follow up from the woman that never ages is just as great as this!

8. Le Kid - Oh Alright!

1. We Are The Drums 9/10
2. Mercy Mercy 9.5/10
3. America 8.5/10
4. Oh My God 9.5/10
5. Bigger Than Jesus 9.5/10
6. Kiss Me 9.5/10
7. We Should Go Home Together 10/10
8. Seventeen 9/10
9. Telephone 8/10
10. Escape 10/10
11. Mr Brightside 9.5/10

A joy from start to finish, Swedish pop group Le Kid stole the Alphabeat formula and added less indie credibility and more colour. The result was one of my favourite debut albums of recent times, and it only finishes as low as 8th because I already knew eight of the eleven tracks on it by the time that the album had finally surfaced! All three of the new tracks were worthy of their place, Kiss Me in particular was a country tinged pop romp that brought back memories of Lily Allen's Not Fair and some of the music from the Spiral Mountain level in the Nintendo 64 game Banjo-Kazooie! Elsewhere, my personal Le Kid highlights We Should Go Home Together and Escape were even more amazing than ever in glorious HQ, Telephone was the worst song on here but still worthy of an 8, whilst America served as a decent lead single for the album. Melodifestivalen entry Oh My God and bonus Killers cover Mr Brightside were also perfectly executed whilst Mercy Mercy remained as great as ever. All in all, pop perfection for 2011 - Swedish pop with a Danish aesthetic and personality, but who cares when it's this good?

7. Steps - The Ultimate Collection

1. 5,6,7,8 8/10
2. Last Thing On My Mind 10/10
3. One For Sorrow 10/10
4. Heartbeat 9.5/10
5. Tragedy 9/10
6. Better Best Forgotten 9.5/10
7. Love's Got A Hold On My Heart 10/10
8. After The Love Has Gone 9/10
9. Say You'll Be Mine 9.5/10
10. Better The Devil You Know 7.5/10
11. Deeper Shade Of Blue 9/10
12. When I Said Goodbye 9/10
13. Summer Of Love 9.5/10
14. Stomp 9/10
15. It's The Way You Make Me Feel 10/10
16. Here and Now 7.5/10
17. You'll Be Sorry 7.5/10
18. Chain Reaction 9.5/10
19. I Know Him So Well 8/10
20. Dancing Queen 9/10

Of all the acts I'd have expected to reform in 2011, Steps were somewhere near the bottom of the list. The Boxing Day split was ugly (happy 10th anniversary to that by the way) but they reunited for a Sky Living documentary and Faye, Claire, Lisa, H and Lee put the past behind them and somehow scored the most unexpected UK #1 album since Scooter's Jumping All Over The World in 2008 when The Ultimate Collection, an almost complete retread of 2001's million selling Gold, smashed in at the top of the UK charts, including on iTunes, a platform which didn't even exist when they'd last been around! A nationwide nostalgia trip perhaps but the quintet managed to sell out an arena tour as well so who are we to judge?

A second rate ABBA for the 90s perhaps but they flew the flag for manufactured pop and were clearly a lot more missed than anybody could have anticipated, perhaps because no group has really come to fill their niche in the meantime. Last Thing On My Mind, One For Sorrow and Love's Got A Hold On My Heart remained my highlights whilst I can't understand why It's The Way You Make Me Feel wasn't a huge #1 in my chart back in 2001. Perhaps I just wasn't ready for such cheese in my dance loving days (this was before my Eurovision obsession kicked in a few months later with the 2001 contest), but now it sounds like a lost Scandipop classic to my ears. Or perhaps it was Lisa's shockingly awful delivery of it on This Morning that sent me hurtling back to the studio version. Who can tell? Add to the mix all of their other pop 'classics' and you have one of my most played albums of the latter end of the year...roll on the tour and a new single/album in 2012!

6. Florence + The Machine - Ceremonials

1. Only If For A Night 9/10
2. Shake It Out 10/10
3. What The Water Gave Me 9.5/10
4. Never Let Me Go 8.5/10
5. Breaking Down 10/10
6. Lover To Lover 9/10
7. No Light, No Light 9.5/10
8. Seven Devils 8/10
9. Heartlines 9.5/10
10. Spectrum 9.5/10
11. All This And Heaven Too 8/10
12. Leave My Body 8/10

Lungs was absolutely incredible, my favourite album of 2009 and Florence made an amazing opening splash with a debut body of atmospheric Kate Bush inspired work. I'm always cautiously optimistic about follow up albums though, very few singer/songwriter type artists can survive the 'sophomore slump' having spent potentially their whole life crafting and perfecting their debut before having to cobble together a second effort in as little as a year. Florence didn't fall victim to this, not quality wise in my eyes at least. The grand production of Lungs was ramped up a notch on Ceremonials but not to the detriment of some huge melodies. The likes of Spectrum, Heartlines and Shake It Out basically define 'epic' whilst the gorgeous plinky-plonk piano on Breaking Down made that my instant highlight. More mellow moments, such as What The Water Gave Me provided a good balance and whilst some complained that it was drowned in production, I have to say that the album benefitted from it. Songs this big demanded grand, pretentious production and I loved every minute of it!

I've decided not to include the bonus tracks in my review solely because they are just that in feel and are quite a step down in quality from the main album. I still prefer Lungs overall, but this definitely exceeded my expectations and had it been released in the first half of the year would have no doubt been part of my top five - I do feel that five other albums defined my year more though and they'll be revealed later!

5. Britney Spears - Femme Fatale

1. Till The World Ends 10/10
2. Hold It Against Me 10/10
3. Inside Out 8.5/10
4. I Wanna Go 9/10
5. How I Roll 8/10
6. (Drop Dead) Beautiful (feat Sabi) 8/10
7. Seal It With A Kiss 8.5/10
8. Big Fat Bass 9/10
9. Trouble For Me 8.5/10
10. Trip To Your Heart 9/10
11. Gasoline 8/10
12. Criminal 9.5/10
13. Up 'N' Down 9/10
14. He About To Lose Me 8.5/10
15. Selfish 8.5/10
16. Don't Keep Me Waiting 8.5/10
17. Scary 8.5/10

I've never really been a huge Britney fan, in fact the first album of hers I bought was Blackout. Prior to that I was really only interested in the odd single of hers here and there. However Hold It Against Me piqued my interest quite massively for the Femme Fatale era and I definitely wasn't disappointed. Where Circus had its fair share of stinkers and fillers, Femme Fatale kept the melodic club bangers coming from start to finish. The singles were all excellently chosen, definitely four of the highlights on the album and it's gutting that none of them caught on in the UK, she's gone from being the biggest superstar around to something of a pop flop in this country, the sign of things to come for Katy Perry, Gaga and Rihanna a decade from now?

Aside from the four singles that were chosen, Britney's loyal fans were taking part in World War 3 deciding what else would make a decent single. For my money, although everything on this album is at least an 8/10 for me and I never skip anything, I'd have gone with either Big Fat Bass, Trip To Your Heart or Up 'N' Down. Talking of the latter, just HOW good were the bonus tracks on this album! Ok, maybe it wasn't quite a Circus situation where the best songs all missed the cut for the main album but all five of the bonus tracks could have easily been on the main tracklist - extremely strong pop album from somebody who may now be a label puppet, but nevertheless knows her way around a great pop song almost a decade and a half into her chart career.

4. Noah & The Whale - Last Night On Earth

1. Life Is Life 9.5/10
2. Tonight's The Kind of Night 9.5/10
3. L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. 10/10
4. Wild Thing 9/10
5. Give It All Back 9/10
6. Just Me Before We Met 8.5/10
7. Paradise Stars 8/10
8. Waiting For My Chance To Come 10/10
9. The Line 8/10
10. Old Joy 8/10

I enjoyed UK indie/nu-folk act Noah & The Whale's debut and the follow up was absolutely stunning, if understandably depressing. Onto the highly anticipated third album and it got off to a good start with the joyous lead single L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N., one of the biggest selling indie songs of the year. The album didn't disappoint me either, it barely left my side all year and the singles were all chosen perfectly, it's just a slight shame that Waiting For My Chance To Come wasn't the second single, it would have been so perfect for the beginning of summer.

Aside from that song the second half is far weaker than the first half, but as a body of work, it's one that I still frequently listen to from start to finish and it never fails to cheer me up. Charlie Fink (surely the love child of Mika and Salem Al Fakir?) is happy again and it shows, more of the same for album number four please!

3. Ed Sheeran - +

1. The A Team 10/10
2. Drunk 9/10
3. UNI 9/10
4. Grade 8 9/10
5. Wake Me Up 6/10
6. Small Bump 9.5/10
7. This 8.5/10
8. The City 9.5/10
9. Lego House 10/10
10. You Need Me, I Don't Need You 10/10
11. Kiss Me 8/10
12. Give Me Love 9/10
13. Autumn Leaves 8/10
14. Little Bird 9/10
15. Gold Rush 7.5/10
16. Sunburn 8/10

I first came across Ed early in 2010 thanks to his close friendship with Leddra Chapman (who finished 2010 with my end of year #2 album, Telling Tales). I continued to download his EP's religiously and it seemed certain to me that despite his image, he was incredibly talented and about to blow up and I was bemused when he wasn't included on ANY of the 'hype for 2011' lists, surely he was going to be one of the biggest breakout stars?

Fast forward a year and I think it's safe to say that Jessie J aside, Ed HAS been the biggest breakthrough artist of 2011. His long awaited (by me) major label debut album + hasn't disappointed at all. I know some people were because it lacks the grit of some of his previous material and comes across as a diluted singer/songwriter-esque album with influences of James Blunt and David Gray. Whatever, whilst he's definitely capable of more diverse material, and I'm sure we'll see it on his second album, I can see why this album was put together as his debut - and looking at the success of The A Team and Lego House in comparison to You Need Me, I Don't Need You, it looks as if the public prefer mellow ballad Ed to 'rapping' Ed. With this in mind, although I'd LOVE The City to be the next single, being one of the more different songs on the album musically, I wonder if they'll avoid that altogether and just go for something like Small Bump or U.N.I. As long as it's not the overly sickly, even for me, Wake Me Up then I don't mind.

So a great debut imo, packed with excellent songs and three fantastic singles, it's a slight shame that Wake Me Up, Gold Rush and Sunburn hadn't been replaced with Sofa, One Night and Homeless from the Loose Change EP, and Kiss Me and Autumn Leaves exchanged with a couple of edgier tracks along the lines of the No 5 Collaborations EP, because then we might have been looking at one of my favourite albums for many many years...

2. Lady Gaga - Born This Way

1. Marry The Night 9.5/10
2. Born This Way 7/10
3. Government Hooker 8.5/10
4. Judas 9.5/10
5. Americano 9/10
6. Hair 9.5/10
7. Scheiße 10/10
8. Bloody Mary 9/10
9. Black Jesus + Amen Fashion 9/10
10. Bad Kids 7/10
11. Fashion Of His Love 8.5/10
12. Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) 9/10
13. Heavy Metal Lover 8.5/10
14. Electric Chapel 8/10
15. The Queen 8/10
16. Yoü And I 9.5/10
17. The Edge Of Glory 10/10

Gaga, what is there to say? Two years ago she had the world eating out of the palms of her hands and now she can't even make Marry The Night a sizeable hit anywhere, despite having her usual huge, pretentious, OTT and unnecessary high budget video. For all the criticism though, Born This Way is an incredible pop album. It pushes boundaries at every move and you have to wonder why nobody seems to care anymore - it's so incredibly accomplished, perhaps not quite the greatest album of the century as she suggested but it throws just about everything into a blender, incredible lyrics, world class production (even RedOne ups his now stale game dramatically on Scheiße) and so much personality. Yet it's still not close to a million in the UK and had to be sold at less than a dollar in the US to ensure a record breaking debut week. Following on from one of the most revolutionary mainstream pop albums of recent times in The Fame Monster, it should have been breaking records without any aid, particularly when the material is this strong. But it sort of feels like she's playing third fiddle to Rihanna and Katy Perry in the realms of female superstardom at the moment. Has worldwide Gaga fatigue set in or is it just a Rated R style sales (but not quality) blip? Only time will tell...

As for the music, I don't even know where to start. Aside from the anthemic - but not particularly to my taste - lead single, I pretty much love everything on here to varying degrees. The Edge Of Glory is an 80s power pop anthem resurrected for 2011 and defines amazing. Judas is a watered down Steps version of Bad Romance, but still a great pop song, Yoü And I is Gaga doing country, and it working, Marry The Night is a convincing opener, Scheiße is one of her greatest ever songs, certainly the best that's never been released as a single. And I love almost everything else too - is it possible to call a multi million selling album by a worldwide icon underrated? Because that's what I'm doing.

1. Adele - 21

1. Rolling In The Deep 10/10
2. Rumour Has It 9.5/10
3. Turning Tables 9.5/10
4. Don't You Remember 9/10
5. Set Fire To The Rain 9.5/10
6. He Won't Go 9/10
7. Take It All 9/10
8. I'll Be Waiting 8.5/10
9. One And Only 8.5/10
10. Lovesong 9/10
11. Someone Like You 10/10

And my favourite album of the year goes to bascially the biggest album I can ever remember. I'm not usually one to side massively with public opinion, and rarely do the best sellers of the year feature very high up my EOY lists (at least not until Take That arrived back on the scene!). 21 however is a different beast, one that's incredibly deserving of the worldwide critical recognition and high sales. Back in 2008 I bought 19 on the day of release, but although I liked it, I wasn't blown away by it, nor Duffy's Rockferry (seeing as the two always used to come in tandem and be compared to each other). I did however prefer Duffy's singles to Adele's in general. However, although Adele may not have been the Sound of 2008, as had been predicted, she was most definitely the Sound of 2011. Where Duffy returned with a crap album and the limp Well, Well, Well, Adele waited two months and unleashed one of the greatest mainstream albums of modern times in 21.

To say that this is a second album, I think it's fair to say that Adele avoided the 'sophomore slump'! So much more mature and well produced than 19 and the songwriting is sublime from start to finish, as are her gorgeous vocals from start to finish. Unlike many of the big female stars, Adele has a powerful voice when necessary but can also show restraint when necessary. The power of Set Fire To The Rain contrasts nicely with the more mellow Cure cover Lovesong for example. Rolling In The Deep was so different to everything else out there and an incredibly gutsy lead single and Someone Like You is one of the best new ballads of recent times, and a deserved biggest selling single of the year in the UK. It feels like an 11 track 'hits' album, and any studio album where every track could have been a huge hit single if released as the lead deserves all of the praise thrown at it. Rumour Has It and Turning Tables would have been worldwide #1's if released in place of Someone Like You for example. A stunning body of work then, back in 2008 I could have never predicted that Adele would live up to the hype in such a way, but consider me convinced. She's broken just about every chart record going worldwide and it's easy to see why.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Who will get the 2011 Christmas number one?

It's almost time for the yearly tradition that is the battle for the UK xmas number one single. For five of the last six years the winner of X Factor has taken the title with only Joe McElderry's The Climb failing to do so in 2009 due to a successful anti X Factor campaign that saw Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name top the charts, selling half a million copies in a week in the process. This year it's all looking very different - nowhere near as much a foregone conclusion as usual. In my mind there are three genuine contenders but before I get to those, I'll list some of the other outsiders.

Amongst the bookies tips for the top are the Cast of The Only Way is Essex with their cover of Wham!'s Last Christmas and X Factor 2009 finalist and I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! winner Stacey Solomon's long awaited debut single, a cover of Chris Rea's Driving Home For Christmas. I very much doubt that either of these will go anywhere near the top, and will probably be lucky to be more than a one or two week wonder in the top 40. Highly tipped singles from Arianna Morgan, The Smiths, The Wombles and Chas 'N' Dave will also go nowhere. And you have to wonder why these acts have such short odds when acts and songs that are currently in the iTunes top five as I write - Coldplay's Paradise, Leona Lewis' cover of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt and Olly Murs' Dance With Me Tonight all have odds as long as 100/1. They're long shots up against the three main contenders but all three surely have more of a chance than The Wombles and Stacey Solomon...

But three contenders have come to the front of the pack in the race to claim the 2011 Xmas #1;

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana's iconic grunge anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit, which thus far shockingly only has a UK peak position of #7, has been chosen as the front running anti X Factor campaign this year. The Rage Against The Machine group worked in 2009 because it was the first time that the idea had been tried, there was a media frenzy which led to huge sales and almost a million members of the Facebook group, of which it was estimated less than 50% ended up ultimately downloading the song. Nevertheless it managed to top Joe McElderry by around 50,000 sales - many of these thought to be the same people buying multiple versions of the song. The idea was tried again last year with Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen. That went to #3 with around 60,000 sales with X Factor's 2010 winner Matt Cardle absolutely thrashing them with When We Collide.

The Nirvana group has so far got 130,000 or so 'fans', assuming a conversion rate of 50% at absolute best then this should translate to a sale of around 60,000-70,000 copies, which won't be anywhere near enough to get it the Christmas #1. An idea that's been tried, tested and achieved before, to attempt it for a third year on the trot rather dilutes the impact of the successful 2009 campaign. It will do well but I don't see it being a realistic contender for the top and I expect Smells Like Teen Spirit to be #3 at best in the Christmas chart. Kudos for whoever chose the charity that proceeds raised will go to though - Rhythmix, the children's charity that battled to get the X Factor girl group to successfully change their name to Little Mix...

Little Mix - Cannonball

...And so then to Little Mix, who were crowned winner's of X Factor at the weekend, the first ever group to win the competition. Put together by the judges in boot camp and mentored by N-Dubz singer Tulisa, the group - consisting of Perrie, Jesy, Leigh-Anne and Jade - has built up a fanbase that has grown througout the competition until they eventually became the most popular act, winning both the semi final and obviously the final. It was in fact Irish singer Janet Devlin that had led the voting for the majority of the series, until a dire performance of Hanson's Mmmbop put her into the bottom two for the first time with the judges wasting no time to send her home. You suspect that Cannonball, the winner's single and thus Little Mix's debut release, was in fact chosen for the winner when Janet was comprehensively leading and expected to win the competition. The Damien Rice song would have suited her vocals and persona a lot more than a girl group who were becoming known for their more contemporary edge.

Nevertheless, they won and were lumbered with this as their debut single (it's a pleasant version of a pleasant song but it's no Sound of the Underground is it!). It went on sale late on Sunday night and has so far managed to shift over 60,000 copies. This is way below the opening sale that Matt Cardle's When We Collide managed last year and even with CD sales in the mix (no pun intended!), it looks as if Cannonball will open with a sale of under 300,000 copies, a direct reflection of the fact that the girls were never absolute favourites from the start in the way that Matt was twinned with the fact that the show has had far lower ratings this year. For the first time, the winner's single has been released a week earlier than usual which means that Cannonball could be on course for a Christmas/second week sale of around 150,000 copies at best - which is easily beatable, perhaps not by Nirvana but certainly by another unknown quantity...

Military Wives with Gareth Malone - Wherever You Are

And to my tip for Christmas #1 - a choir brought together for a BBC2 TV show by choirmaster and presenter Gareth Malone. The choir consists of around 100 women whose husbands are out serving their country in Afghanistan and next week they will be releasing a song called Wherever You Are, an original composition by Welsh composer Paul Mealor with lyrics taken from some of the letters sent between the wives and their husbands. The collective have already performed the song live on Strictly Come Dancing and the CD single has become online retailer Amazon's biggest ever pre-ordered music item. Whether it will be downloaded in such quantities remains to be seen but huge demand very much seems to be present for this song and I expect that it will do big business both digitially and physically.

It should easily get past the 150,000 or so second week tally expected of Little Mix and will almost certainly be the first Christmas #1 since 2004's Band Aid 20 that isn't X Factor related in any way, be it the winner's of the show or a campaign against it. It's a wintery sounding, haunting and touching song which is delivered beautifully by the lead vocalist, shy Scottish 28 year old Samantha Stevenson. Perhaps not an obvious contender for Christmas chart topper considering some of the songs that have topped the festive listings in the past but this does look like the one to beat at the moment. Anybody keen to see X Factor miss out this year might as well move their attention from Nirvana over to this, as it's definitely the one to beat.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

New Music : An icon, a newcomer and a charity ensemble

Freak Asylum - You Better Leave

Kelly Llorenna is a legend, the dance diva provided the vocals on my all time favourite song, Set You Free by N-Trance and I also hold True Love Never Dies, Tell It To My Heart and Brighter Day in incredibly high regard. Since her brief flashes of solo stardom in 2001/2002 when she managed four UK top ten hits in the space of a year, Kelly seems to have spent a decade pushing out random dance covers to no fanfare whatsoever. Thankfully the icon is back on form with new band Freak Asylum which leaves the dance behind and focuses more on pop with rocky influences. Debut single You Better Leave has been a long time coming but it was well worth the wait. An 80s influenced synth pop stormer, written by legendary Grammy award winning songwriter Toby Gad, it ticks all of the boxes and is the best thing that Kelly's done for almost a decade. What a shame then that the video, complete with Kelly rocking a new bleach blonde look as alter ego 'Lola Leethal', has had barely any views then, this song deserves to be a huge hit!

Reece Mastin - Good Night

Fresh from winning X Factor Australia for his mentor Guy Sebastian, a talent show winner himself, 17 year old Reece Mastin has bagged himself a shockingly excellent debut single. Shocking because in the UK we're used to the debut singles by X Factor winners being ballads about striving for hope and achieving their dreams - yes this means you That's My Goal, A Moment Like This, When You Believe and The Climb. But Reece, who originally hails from English town Scunthorpe - he moved to Australia six years ago with his family - has been given something much more contemporary to launch his career. In fact it could easily pass as the first post competition single rather than feeling like a contracted post-show winner's single. Good Night can best be described as a mix of Pink's Raise Your Glass and something that you might find on the new One Direction album. It's a bold and strong instantly infectious pop/rock song that looks set to go straight to the top of the charts in Australia. Hopefully it will make it over to the UK at some point too, he could definitely be marketed in his home country!

X Factor Finalists 2011 feat JLS and One Direction - Wishing On A Star

Talking of the X Factor, the UK series is winding down with only five acts left now, the favourites to win being Liverpudlian soul-pop singer Marcus Collins, Irish balladeer Janet Devlin and the surprise package of the competition, girlband Little Mix. Misha B and Amelia Lily are the remaining contestants and all five acts feature prominently on this year's charity ensemble single, along with all of the other finalists, apart from Frankie naturally! Following 2008's Hero, 2009's You Are Not Alone and 2010's We Could Be Heroes, this year's offering is a cover of the Rose Royce classic Wishing On A Star. In an attempt to ensure that sales are higher than the last two, which have suffered from the law of diminishing returns in terms of total sales, the producers have enlisted the help of top UK boybands, and former X Factor finalists, JLS and One Direction to sing on the final chorus. They bring very little to the song and are clearly only there to ensure that the loyal fanbases of those groups rush out to buy it too to boost sales and raise as much money for the charity, which can't be complained about really. It's a nice enough cover that does its job and will be a UK #1 single but it won't be remembered for long and will have left the charts by early 2012. Nice for all of the finalists to have a chart topper to their name though.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Vanessa Amorosi channels 911 in new duet

Australian once superstar Vanessa Amorosi, whose star seems to be slowly fading with the release of her last couple of non-charting singles, has teamed up with veteran New Zealand born singer Jon Stevens for a new collaboration, a rather vocally impressive version of Private Number. A soul song originally by William Bell and Judy Clay and a UK top ten hit in 1968, this cover adds a rocky touch to proceedings and suitably soaring vocals from the lady with arguably Australia's strongest voice. Jon's parts aren't so bad either!

The most successful version of this song in the UK of course, if anybody can recall it, was a cover by boyband 911 and uncredited female singer Natalie Jordan. Following their successful covers of More Than A Woman and A Little Bit More, it peaked at #3 in May 1999 although dropped away quickly becoming nothing more than another forgotten boyband single. Shame really as it was quite a pleasant version. The bigger shame is Natalie Jordan never having a solo career, in fact this was the first and last time I ever heard of her!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

2011: The year of the ballad?

2011 has arguably been the most ballad heavy year chartwise since the late 90s. I'm quite pleased about this, I've always been a big fan of a great ballad and there have been plenty to choose from this year. There seem to be three major reasons that ballads have come back into vogue in a big way in the past 12 months. Firstly, Adele, the woman who is responsible for keeping the music industry alive during 2011. Her beautiful live performance of Someone Like You at the BRIT Awards captured the attention of the public and the song has gone on to sell well over a million copies, despite being from an album that has sold well over three million, and topped charts around the world, including the US where it became her second #1 single recently. As a response, piano ballads are suddenly fashionable again.

The second factor is the age old marketing trick of an effective advertising campaign. John Lewis kicked it off last year with Fyfe Dangerfield's cover of She's Always A Woman and Ellie Goulding's take on Your Song both going on to huge chart success. Since then we've had Charlene Soraia's cover of The Calling's Wherever You Will Go become a top three hit after featuring on an advert for Twinings tea. Now John Lewis are back with a third strike - Slow Moving Millie's take on Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want and even Matalan are getting in on the act - Cinnamon Girl stripping down N-Trance's rave anthem (and my all time favourite song!) Set You Free for their Christmas campaign!

The cult of the 'candlelight mix', a ballad or stripped down piano take on a dance, rock or indie song isn't a new phenomenon of course, DJ Sammy's Heaven, which turned the Bryan Adams rock song into a dance classic is arguably just as popular these days in its ballad form aka 'Yanou's Candlelight Mix' where vocalist Do sings with only a piano accompaniment. It brought a completely different dynamic to the track and seemed to kick start a mass influx of similar remixes with seemingly every dance song coming out since having a complimentary ballad version as a remix. Sometimes they work (Cascada - Everytime We Touch, DHT - Listen To Your Heart) and sometimes they don't (most of the others!). X Factor have got in on the act too now, with acts such as Craig and Janet stripping back everything that they do into ballad form regardless of the theme of the week.

The third factor of the ballad becoming more popular can surely be down to what can only be called 'club banger fatigue'. During 2010 and the first few months of 2011 the charts were absolutely saturated with what felt like 100 different versions of exactly the same song. Usually an American act combining a club beat with a catchy chorus or sample and a shoehorned in rap from either Pitbull or Flo Rida. Songs such as LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem, Pitbull's Give Me Everything, J.Lo's On The Floor and the like. At one point it seemed like everything in the top ten was from this genre and it obviously got a bit too much! Look at the current UK charts and these sorts of songs are barely represented now, instead there's a sea of balladry and MOR, some boybands and some female pop superstars. So will the renewed popularity of the ballad last for long? And when will we get some more original ballads?

As good as these covers might be, and lest we forget the 2011 queen of the ballad cover, 15 year old Birdy, there haven't actually been all that many original ballads around. We've had Someone Like You and Christina Perri's Jar Of Hearts, Lana Del Rey's stunning Video Games and at a stretch The A Team and Lego House by Ed Sheeran. O
f course we also have the usual slew of winter ballad releases from the pop bands of the moment - One Direction's Gotta Be You, JLS' Take A Chance On Me and The Saturdays' My Heart Takes Over, but it's still incomparable to the likes of 1998 where two or three original and classic ballads seemed to join the charts each week - Angels, How Do I Live, I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, Truly Madly Deeply, Viva Forever, To You I Belong, Heartbeat, No Matter What, Finally Found and Frozen to name but a few! So whilst I'm pleased to see the return of the ballad, lets hope that we get less covers and more original compositions in time for 2012! Nobody will remember the covers in ten years from now but there's a high chance that the likes of Someone Like You, Jar Of Hearts and The A Team will all go on to become modern day classics!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Moves like never...6 weeks at #2?

Poor Maroon 5 and the curse of Rihanna, similar to The Saturdays' curse of Flo Rida, destined never to get a UK #1 because the same face keeps popping up in the way. The US group have scored a slightly unexpected huge worldwide hit with their Christina Aguilera collaboration Moves Like Jagger. Considering these two acts are the cream of pop circa 2002-2004, it's strange to see them collaborating approximately 7 or 8 years after this would have been a momentous occasion and getting such a big smash out of it. The collaboration came about of course after Christina and Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine worked together on the US version of talent show The Voice. The single made an instant splash in the US although is now doing better than ever before and has had a few weeks at #1, bringing the band right back to the peak of commercial success after a few years where it felt like their star was fading.

Moves Like Jagger has also topped the charts in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Sweden to date but in a few major territories it's stalled at #2. The mighty Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye and Kimbra has kept it at bay for months in Australia whilst Marlon Roudette's ballad New Age has prevented it from topping the German chart so far. In the UK something quite extraordinary has happened - it's spent the last five weeks static at No.2, each week behind a completely different song. On two occasions it's come close to topping the chart, just a couple of hundred sales prevented it from seeing off Example's Stay Away whilst only a couple of thousand separated it in the most recent chart from Sak Noel's Loca People.

With no major releases seemingly slated for this week, and holding up better than everything else as usual it seemed as if it would finally go to #1 this week, on its eighth week inside the top three. But wait...fate plays its cruel hand and Rihanna and Calvin Harris' new single and impending blockbuster smash, We Found Love, was released at midnight and is already #3 on iTunes UK and almost certain to deny Maroon 5 of the top spot on what was to be their final chance, what with major releases due next week from Matt Cardle and Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine himself. This is exactly the same scenario as in 2007 when Makes Me Wonder was a midweek #1 before a late in the week release of Rihanna's soon to be record breaking #1 Umbrella which edged it out to debut at the top by Sunday. They obviously quickly forgave her as a collaboration between the two acts - If I Never See Your Face Again - was released as a single before the year was out.

One thing's for sure - Moves Like Jagger will wind up as one of the all time great #2 singles, coming so close on so many occasions yet destined to miss out on each one. And it will almost certainly outsell every song that prevented it from going to #1 in the long run, just as Eminem and Rihanna's Love The Way You Lie did last year before winding up as the UK's biggest selling single of the year. Rihanna gets her chart revenge then, it's just a shame that it always has to be at the expense of Maroon 5. As for Christina, it looks as if she'll have to wait a while longer for her fifth UK chart topper, almost 8 years and counting. Looking set to be beaten by six different songs, Moves Like Jagger can count itself one of the unluckiest #2 singles of all time!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

1998, was there just TOO much great music?

I don't hide the fact that 1998 is by far my favourite ever year for music, perhaps because it's the year that I finally opened my eyes (or ears) to it. Before this year I was only interested in classical music and a couple of random songs. But Cher's Believe changed everything for me - I was blown away by it and tuned into the chart every week to hear it, until I finally got the (cassette) single for xmas! This tuning into the chart weekly became an obsession and of course introduced me to 39 other songs weekly that were new to me. I look back on the charts of late 1998 with great affection, not only do I remember almost every song in there but I LOVE almost every one of them too. Naturally I was regularly starting to tune into the radio at other times too, which was of course playing the general hits from earlier in the year - all of which I also seemed to adore.

Is nostalgia really that strong an emotion or was it just a really great year for music? The charts were packed with everything you could possibly want - pure pop from Steps, B*Witched, Boyzone and Five, Scandipop from Ace of Base, Robyn, Emilia, Meja and Aqua, classic ballads from Aerosmith, Savage Garden, Celine Dion and LeAnn Rimes, alternative greats from Massive Attack, Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and The Cardigans, acts like Robbie Williams and Madonna at the top of their game and just about anything else you could possibly want. The biggest selling album of the year remains one of my all time top three favourites ever - Talk On Corners by The Corrs. Eurovision was hosted in the UK and spearheaded by the legendary Dana International and the brilliant home entry by Imaani. It was just a perfect year in so many ways.

What then of the 'forgotten classics'? There was so much great music around that some songs were always going to slip under the radar a bit - Sarah McLachlan's Angel for example. And what of Goo Goo Dolls' Iris? Thankfully, despite missing the top 40 in 1998 only to fare a little better the following year, that excellent song is finally about to make the chart splash that it always should have done, heading for the UK top three this weekend thanks to X Factor. I'm a big fan of X Factor, even moreso when it propels deserved long forgotten 'classics' to the heights that they should have reached in the first place - Iris, Make You Feel My Love, Cannonball etc...I can't wait to see what's next, hopefully something else from 1998!

My top 40 from 1998;

1. The Corrs - So Young
2. Cher - Believe
3. Ace Of Base - Life Is A Flower
4. Spice Girls - Viva Forever
5. B*Witched - To You I Belong
6. Energy 52 - Cafe Del Mar
7. Sash! feat Tina Cousins - Mysterious Times
8. Ace Of Base - Always Have, Always Will
9. The Corrs - Dreams
10. Sash! - La Primavera
11. Tin Tin Out feat Shelly Nelson - Here's Where The Story Ends
12. Boyzone - All That I Need
13. Savage Garden - To The Moon & Back
14. Madonna - The Power Of Goodbye
15. Honeyz - End Of The Line
16. Honeyz - Finally Found
17. Steps - Last Thing On My Mind
18. Steps - One For Sorrow
19. Meja - All 'Bout The Money
20. Aqua - Turn Back Time
21. B*Witched - C'est La Vie
22. Lutricia McNeal - Stranded
23. The Corrs - What Can I Do
24. The Goo Goo Dolls - Iris
25. Robyn - Show Me Love
26. LeAnn Rimes - How Do I Live
27. Madonna - Frozen
28. Jennifer Paige - Crush
29. Savage Garden - Truly, Madly, Deeply
30. E-17 - Each Time
31. Emilia - Big Big World
32. Boyzone - I Love The Way You Love Me
33. Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
34. Aerosmith - I Don't Want To Miss A Thing
35. Five - Until The Time Is Through
36. Robbie Williams - No Regrets
37. Boyzone - No Matter What
38. Steps - Heartbeat
39. Lutricia McNeal - Someone Loves You Honey
40. Karen Ramirez - Looking For Love

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The tale of Sunday Girl and the perfect pop song...

Love U More is one of those pop songs that I seem to love in any incarnation. The 1992 original by Sunscreem, which went top 30 in the UK, introduced this beautiful melody to the world and there have been subsequent covers by both Steps and Basshunter, both of which I absolutely loved! In fact it's fair to say that despite being utterly generic and formulaic, I was addicted to Basshunter's version in summer 2008! And here we go again, this time it's rising electro-pop singer/songwriter Jade Williams aka Sunday Girl having a crack at the song. This is to be her 'proper debut single' for Polydor and will hopefully get the push it needs to at least give it a fighting chance of charting.

The single, due out on 30 October in the UK received its first UK play two days ago on Radio 1Xtra. Naturally I absolutely adore it, I wonder if anybody will ever cover this song in a way that won't appeal massively to me? I very much doubt it, I just love the melody and the lyrics and Sunday Girl's gorgeous warm vocals and sparkling euphoric trance take on the song really make it a cover to cherish. It may not be an original song which is what a lot of her fans would have preferred, but if you're going to do a cover version, you might as well do it in style and Jade shows everybody how its done. You can hear the track in its full glory below;

Sunday, 18 September 2011

It's a red hot love affair!

My current favourite pop obsession then is Red Hot by a Norwegian singer called Lise Karlsnes. Having never heard of her before last week, upon further inspection it seems that Lise is a former member of an electro-pop band called Briskeby who had a top ten hit in Norway in 2000 called Propaganda, which I've embedded below - quite pleasant and clearly ahead of its time actually!

Red Hot though is her first solo outing and takes the best bits of Scandinavian electro pop - the glorious layered 80s influenced production, the BIG chorus, the sorrow bursting from every seam, the stunning outro - it's pop perfection. I've seen it compared elsewhere to Sweden's Vanbot and I'd say that that's a fair comparison - it has that same sort of 'D.I.Y. Robyn' sound to it. Having listened to Propaganda now though, more than anything else it seems to be a natural progression from Briskeby, which is nice for the fans. She does look like a cross between Jessie J and Dragons Den's Hilary Devey in the video though!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Enrique and Pitbull are liking it again!

Following on from their huge smash collaboration last year I Like It, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull have teamed up once again on the less 'club banger' and more POP song I Like How It Feels. It's got some whistling (the Moves Like Jagger influence?) and is actually a surprisingly pleasant and instantly catchy pop song with a subtle electro backing and anthemic Kings of Leon style 'oh-oh-uh-oh' style chanting. Another nice change of style from Enrique the musical chameleon after a year of club songs and it should go down very well on the radio - has anybody remembered to make a non-Pitbull version for Heart FM?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Tove Styrke = just a bit brilliant, no?

18 year old Tove Styrke finished 3rd in Sweden's Idol 2009 and is already far far better than she should be considering her age. With a quirky electro sound that is closest to that of Robyn, it's interesting to put their early hits side by side. Robyn was releasing pre-Britney bubblegum pop and scoring worldwide hits with the likes of Show Me Love and Do You Know (What It Takes) at the age of 18, Tove meanwhile has bypassed that stage completely and gone straight down the contemporary Robyn route of magnificent top class melodic and often emotive electro pop.

Launching last year with the beat driven Million Pieces, it didn't take long until she unleashed her first pop monster - the glorious White Light Moment, probably my favourite Scandipop song since Agnes' Release Me, which is no mean feat considering that I'd place that inside my all time top ten. Her debut eponymous album was so accomplished that it sounded like something a respected artist might release four or five years into their career. The production was spot on and there was a lot of variety but only a few flashes of melodic brilliance, White Light Moment (why has this not been given a UK push yet? Radio 1 would surely lap it up?) being the standout.

Her profile though has remained high throughout the year with further singles. High & Low got a polish and a single release earlier in the year and more recently we've had two new singles, one which can be assumed to be the first from her second album, Call My Name, and then a collaboration with Caotico called (Fuck My) Brains Out. Both are thoroughly brilliant, slotting in behind White Light Moment as my 2nd and 3rd favourite things that she's done to date respectively, the former being a spunky electro singalong, the latter being a surprisingly charming and jolly collaboration, considering its lyrical content! Will she ever top her second single? It's hard to say as it's like asking if Lady Gaga will ever top Bad Romance. It's incredibly unlikely but the second album has the potential to be incredible looking at the evidence presented so far. Similar production to the debut but more big melodies and I'll be very happy indeed. Lets just hope that she didn't peak too soon because she has the makings of an international star.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Birdy helps the people

15 year old Jasmine Van den Bogaerde aka Birdy has already won a legion of fans this year for her emotional piano ballad takes on recent indie songs. Her take on Bon Iver's Skinny Love had decent chart longevity and eventually peaked at #17 in the UK whilst The XX cover Shelter went top 50. Her Live Lounge version of Ed Sheeran's The A Team was also haunting. Cherry Ghost are the next to get the cover treatment - the 2007 indie rock hit, which reached the top 30 in the UK, has once again been Birdied and sounds even more glorious than ever before. Her delicate yet incredibly mature vocals and the stripped production bring the melody right out of the original and transform the track into a genuine tear jerker. The single is apparently due out on October 3rd and has really whet my appetite for the album which will follow shortly after.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Flashback: UK top five 24/05/1997

Being the chart obsessive that I sadly still am, and have been for the best part of my life, here's a new feature where I'll select various past UK top fives and endeavour to give them some context and of course write my own thoughts about them. Lets start with one from May 1997, Labour had just gone into power, Cool Britannia and Girl Power were the terms of the time and I was 10 and at primary school, yet remember all five of these tracks perfectly.

1. Olive - You're Not Alone (1)

This was the second week at the top for British duo Olive and their famous dance anthem You're Not Alone. Not one of my personal favourite 90s dance anthems but I appreciate it a lot more now than I did back then. It's had various covers since, an ATB one that sounded exactly the same and then one by Tinchy Stryder which also kept the chorus more or less in tact. Sadly Olive never graced the top ten again after this moved down the listings, but no doubt they still make some money from continued airplay and its tracklisting on every respectable 'best of the 90s' compilation going!

2. Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli - Time To Say Goodbye (NEW)

Does anybody else miss the days when a song like this could become a hit? The late 90s were an incredibly varied landscape chartwise and after going on to huge success in Germany, becoming one of the biggest selling singles of all time there, classical crossover track Time To Say Goodbye got a UK release and heavy Radio 2 play and smashed in at #2, staying inside the top five for five weeks! The closest we got in 2011 was Ludovico Einaudi going top 40 for a week with I Giorni thanks to a Greg James campaign...More recently, the song has been covered by Joe McElderry on his #2 album Classic.

3. Katrina and the Waves - Love Shine A Light (13)

Another song that it's impossible to imagine being a top three hit now, 80's one hit wonders Katrina and the Waves returned to the spotlight in early 1997 having been chosen to represent the UK at Eurovision. The uplifting song, with an almost contemporary prayer-like quality (I SWEAR I remember singing this at church when I used to go weekly as a child), swept aside the competition and became an easy win for the UK, and indeed our last of five. Everything seemed to be going right for the country in 1997, and even the Eurovision wasn't immune to this feeling. Bouncing up from #13 to capitalise on its success, has there ever been a more eclectic top three than this, seriously?

4. No Mercy - Please Don't Go (NEW)

The follow up to the huge, classic hit Where Do You Go, the latin American trio followed that up with another instant top five hit. It followed the usual 'inferior near carbon copy of past hit = diminishing returns'. This followed the exact formula of its predecessor and duly dropped out of the top 40 after four weeks...they may as well have been a one hit wonder.

5. The Cardigans - Lovefool (2)

Swedish band The Cardigans had released this pop anthem a year before, peaking at a criminal #21 in the UK. After being included on the soundtrack of hit film Romeo & Juliet it was re-released and managed a far more deserving #2 peak this time around. A smiley anthemic indie-tinged pop anthem, like much of their 90s output, it's not my absolute favourite song of theirs - that accolade would go to the Gran Turismo singles My Favourite Game and Erase/Rewind, but it provided the commercial breakthrough that they needed. Shockingly, in the land of underrating their own talent, Sweden (hi domestic #9 peak for Agnes' international smash Release Me) it only got as far as recent years it's been brought back into the spotlight by, of all people, Justin Bieber, who interpolated the chorus in his single Love Me.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Fancy another huge hit Wretch 32...? about making Hush Little Baby your next single then!?! Black and White is a really good debut album from the Tottenham born rapper although the singles are generally the highlights, Traktor in particular remains amazing. There are however a few decent collaborations tucked away - Don't Be Afraid with Delilah and Anniversary (Fall In Love) with Alex Mills but my easy highlight of the entire album, although I may be biased due to recent Ed Sheeran obsessions, is Hush Little Baby featuring the man himself. The excellent production sounds like a more accomplished take on some of the great songs on Ed's Loose Change EP, namely Sofa and One Night and his vocals on the chorus are as stunning and affecting as ever. Wretch's verses are suitably hard hitting and relevant and this just has smash hit written all over it!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Sun rising for LA based Australian singer...

Australian singer/songwriter Katie Cole has been recording music and living in LA hoping for her big break but BBC Radio 2 in the UK have quickly got on board and playlisted her single Sunrise, providing massive exposure for the rising star. A guitar driven intro leads into a cheery and uplifting song with echoes of Sheryl Crow and Kelly Clarkson. Yet it's a brilliant way to launch her career, instantly catchy and infectious - perfect for daytime radio.

A number of her songs are already available to download in the UK for anybody that's interested - her Lost Inside A Moment EP is particularly strong, featuring this single as well as Always and the title track that should appeal to fans of Delta Goodrem, Natalie Imbruglia, Sara Bareilles, Vanessa Carlton and other 00s adult contemporary pop singers. Breakout meanwhile is a lot more dramatic with sweeping strings and a darker melody, but still incredibly immersive. All in all though Katie has shown a lot of potential and I can't wait to hear what's yet to come!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

But now you're suddenly like a stranger...

After 10 years away it's easy to forget how much of an impact Steps had on the British pop scene. Between 1997-2001 Claire, Faye, H, Lisa and Lee ruled the charts with their brand of Europop crossed with a sort of UK take on schlager. The likes of Last Thing On My Mind, One For Sorrow and After The Love Has Gone were particularly ABBA-esque. They scored 14 consecutive top five singles in the UK and their Gold: Greatest Hits collection (another nod to the great Swedes!) topped the charts for three weeks here. So news of their 'Ultimate Collection' to commemorate their reunion of sorts - getting back together for a Sky Living documentary, although there *may* be more to follow if the reaction is good - was a moment to cherish for Steps fans.

However although singles that were missing on Gold have been added, the only 'new' track is a cover of Dancing Queen, just to really hammer the point home. This did of course appear as part of their 'Thank ABBA For The Music' medley with Tina Cousins, B*Witched, Billie and Cleopatra so one would assume that it will sound a lot like the segment from that. Either way, we'll be buying it for the bonus DVD of music videos and cross our fingers that we get a proper new album and tour next year! It's been far too long...

We're back!

Happy September, it's time to restart the blog and first apologies for such a long absence. A lot has happened in the music world since the last post, not least the returns to relevance for Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Scherzinger, Will Young, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera - congratulations to all! And how could we not mention Ed Sheeran going from cruelly snubbed 'Sound Of 2011' casualty to the biggest new artist of the year (well, maybe after Jessie J!). Now it's time to look at what traditionally the most exciting quarter of the music year has to offer so join me once again, get involved with your comments or send me e-mails of suggestions what I should include and I'll see what I can do! For now though, enjoy the pretty new banner which encompasses the essence of what this blog is all about!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Blue to represent the UK at Eurovision!!!

Reformed 00's boyband Blue have been announced to represent the United Kingdom at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. After years of shameful songs and bottom place finishes, the BBC have gone all out this year to secure an act with decent credentials rather than a talentless nobody, and I for one will be backing Blue in May, well, providing that they have a decent song of course!

Launched to mass fanfare in 2001 as a cooler boyband after Another Level and 5ive had all but disappeared, Blue scored a clutch of UK and European hits and sold millions of singles and albums. They topped the UK charts three times - with Too Close, If You Come Back and their Elton John duet Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. Still radio staples today with these songs as well as their other classics All Rise, Fly By II and One Love (for the mother's pride - who could forget that tribute to sliced bread!). The song will be called I Can and the boys, Simon Webbe, Lee Ryan, Duncan James and Antony Costa, all of whom scored some solo success outside of the band, will embark on promotional duties across Europe in the coming months.

They're certainly not nobodies in Europe either, having scored huge hits across the continent, especially in the returning Italy, where classy ballad Breathe Easy was a mammoth #1 in 2004. Can they win Eurovision for the UK? Who knows, but they've certainly given us our best chance in a long long time - unless the song is truly dreadful, it seems unlikely that they'll be in sniffing distance of last place like most of our entries.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Echoes of Ed Sheeran and Sheelah


What's this? A new male electropop duo - after Hurts, The Sound of Arrows and of course Pet Shop Boys, consider me interested! And you can certainly hear influences of the latter in the music of Echoes. The pair have been remixing for rising stars Florrie, The Good Natured, Lights and The Joy Formidable but also have some songs of their own out there, and it's fair to say that they're very impressive.

Listen to some of their songs/remixes here:

And here is my favourite of their songs on Youtube, the melancholy It Goes On, sounding like a lost 80's gem but simultaneously making a lot of sense in 2011;

Ed Sheeran

I feel like I'm a bit late to the party to just start writing about Ed now, but this guy cannot be ignored. As a big fan of Leddra Chapman, a friend and collaborator of Ed Sheeran, I became aware of his music at some point early this year. But despite being tipped by approximately none of the 'Sound of 2011' type polls, Ed looks like he's about to become a major star. His latest of many EP's, No.5 Collaborations Project, climbed as high as #2 on iTunes UK without any sort of major label backing, with only the force that is Rihanna blocking a #1. He clearly has a quickly growing fanbase and deservedly so. The 19 year old singer/songwriter is unique in that he works with a lot of the current big grime artists, particularly on his current EP - this hybrid genre is incredibly fresh and his soulful voice really stands out and adds weight, and a sense of hope or sorrow to the rapper that each chorus accompanies in the verse. Even Elton John's declared himself as a fan! The most hard hitting track on the EP is Little Lady, a collaboration with Mikill Pane. It's gritty and shocking, almost like a UK version of Eminem's Stan lyrically - but definitely well worth a listen;


I covered Sheelah on the blog last year following their frankly astonishing Scandipop/electro/pop-rock hybrid Psycho. The duo, formerly part of the group Caracola, who participated in Melodifestivalen 2008 with the chirpy Smiling In Love, are set to be launched properly now - in Sweden at least - and the first proper single from them is The Last Time. Not a million miles away from Psycho, the lyrics are perhaps more commercial so it makes sense to lead with this song. The electro production gives way to a When Love Takes Over style broken piano chord before launching into a brilliantly euphoric Scandipop chorus and that's before even getting onto one of the greatest middle eight's I've heard in a while! Roll on Sheelah's album - I'll be first in line to buy it, or rather import it!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Max Martin's a bit busy at the moment isn't he...

Not content with only working on worldwide smash hits for Britney, Taio Cruz and anyone of note, he hasn't forgotten his Swedish routes and has teamed up with Euro legend E-Type to help resurrect his long career. Written and produced alongside Shellback and Savan Kotecha it's no surprise to hear that Back To Life is an instantly catchy Eurotrance/pop anthem not dissimilar to recent singles from Taio Cruz, Rihanna et al. E-Type's vocals sound more like Eiffel 65 than ever before but it's good to see him back on the scene. Active since the early 1990s, he was huge across Europe, particularly in his native Sweden where he's had five No.1 singles and appeared in Melodifestivalen with Paradise in 2004 and Line Of Fire in 2008. A UK launch was attempted more recently courtesy of dance label AATW, with singles True Believer and Rain being given a push here (and featuring on the huge Clubland compilation series), but sadly they didn't really take off. One would imagine that AATW will definitely be attempting to push this one, it certainly sounds current to the charts of today - and naturally it will succeed in Sweden!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

How long could I get away without mentioning Britney?

...Not very long! Now I'll admit, I've always found Britney's single releases to be hit and miss, but you can't ignore the fact that each era has thrown up at least one pop classic - Baby One More Time, Oops...I Did It Again!, I'm A Slave 4 U, Toxic, Gimme More, Womanizer and this time around Hold it Against Me. An absolute triumph of a comeback single, Max Martin and Dr Luke working together never results in an end product that is anything less than spectacular. Surely the two most on form songwriter/producers in the world, they have an uncanny knack to move forward with every trend, never sounding tired or sticking too long to the same sound (Timbaland/RedOne). It became clear at some point during last year that dubstep would be the 'sound of 2011'. So the pair, who have dabbled in clunky piano pop in the late 90's, pop/rock in the mid 00's and electro-pop and urban-dance more recently have turned their hand to the genre. And who better to bring it into the mainstream than Britney Spears?

Hold It Against Me seems understated at first, a chorus perhaps not as instant as those on the hits that she is famed for. But the production hits you straight away. The crashing intro and first verse clearly borrows from Eurodance, my first thoughts were that it sounded like a more fierce version of In My Eyes by Milk Inc. Fast forward through various 'Britney-isms' such as her pronunciation of hazy ('hazaay') and a spoken/sung middle eight, leading to what is already destined to be 2011's best breakdown, only two weeks into the year! Dubstep pulses and electro synths simmer before exploding back into that chorus, which by the third listen is guaranteed to have you hooked and coming back for more. Her ever loyal (sometimes scarily so) fanbase unsurprisingly believe that this is the best thing since sliced bread, and for the first time since Toxic, they could well be justified.